Dr. Abdul Kalam and the India-based Neutrino Observatory

G Rajasekaran
Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai
and Chennai Mathematical Institute, Siruseri

India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) is India's megascience project already approved by the Government of India with an outlay of about Rs 1400 crores. It has many components: an under-the-mountain laboratory in Theni District in Tamil Nadu, the Inter-University Centre for High Energy Physics (IICHEP) on the outskirts of Madurai and more than 120 physicists, engineers and students from 25 research institutions, Universities and IITs spread over the length and breadth of the country. The Government of Tamil Nadu has already given land in Theni District and Madurai for this project.

The following is a brief account of the interaction of INO scientists with Dr. Abdul Kalam and his support for INO.

I met Dr Kalam for the first time in 2009. We had invited him for a talk at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences at Chennai during the Birth Centenary celebrations of Homi Bhabha. We discussed INO with him and asked for his support. After that we met Kalam many times for his help and support in our continuing INO-outreach activities among people.

On 11 January 2010, Dr Naba Mondal (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai), Dr Vivek Datar (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai) and myself met Dr Kalam at his residence in Delhi and discussed all aspects of INO with him for almost two hours. We gave him many articles on INO and we asked him for his opinion that we can take to the people. He said he will do it a little later after digesting the material that we had presented to him orally as well as in written form.

In the first week of February Dr Chinnaraj Joseph (the then Principal of The American College, Madurai and the Chairman of the Madurai-Theni INO Outreach Cell) sent us detailed documents to us listing the steps that we needed to take in dealing with the village situation. One of the points he made, was, in his own words: " I hear from the village representatives and my team that the people are very curious about the stand taken by our former President Dr Abdul Kalam. Everybody here from within and outside believe that Kalam's words would do real magic."

So, I wrote a detailed letter to Dr Kalam renewing our request in the light of the urgency of the village agitations that we faced. When I learnt that he was coming to Chennai on 11 February, I wrote to him seeking an appointment. This time his response was immediate and positive. All our earlier work with him was bearing fruit. When Dr MVN Murthy and Dr D Indumathi (both from Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai) along with me met him on 11 February at Raj Bhavan, he had his answer ready in his hand and read it to us. This was his reply to a letter from a student of Gandhigram Rural University and it contains the following statements:

"Scientific institutions and Colleges around the Theni area will be reinforced through the neutrino project. Just as CERN is famous for its Large Hadron Collider project, Theni and surrounding region will become famous for neutrino particle physics experiments. I expect great scientific and technological activity in the project site and the neighboring academic institutions."

Dr Kalam gave us permission to spread this among people. Dr Jeyapragasam of Madurai helped us to publish it in the Tamil daily "Dinamalar" on 27 February. When I was addressing a meeting in the Theni region I read Kalam's letter and immediately there was an elecrifying reaction from the people. We used Kalam's statements in many INO outreach meetings.

Kalam continued to support INO. Finally on 17 June 2015 he along with Srijan Pal Singh published an article on INO in The HINDU in which he cleared the public misconceptions about INO and gave his strong opinion stressing the importance of INO for the scientific advance of India. We learnt that Dr Kalam had planned to visit many Colleges in Theni District and Madurai and give talks about INO to the students. But fate decided differently. On 27 July Kalam passed away.

People must take the statements in his article on 17 June to their heart. " We must dream. It is dreams that will take India forward." These are the famous words of Kalam repeated by him on many occasions. INO is one such dream. We must make this dream come true. We must defeat the forces of ignorance opposing INO, through the weapon of rational thought. INO must be established in Tamil Nadu. The Government of Tamil Nadu, the people of Tamil Nadu and especially the students must make every effort towards realising this dream project.